COVID-19, Environment, Trump Administration

Poll: North Carolinians say feds must address climate change, unhappy with Tillis

Sen. Thom Tillis has just a 31% job approval rating, according to a recent Public Policy Polling survey.

More than 60 percent of North Carolinians surveyed said they think elected leaders — particularly the federal government — must act urgently to protect communities from the worst impacts of climate change, according to poll results released today.

And two-thirds said they strongly or somewhat approve of Gov. Roy Cooper’s Clean Energy Plan. Surprisingly, 40 percent of Trump voters said they support the plan, evidence of “a bit more partisan crossover than in the past,” said Tom Jensen, director of Public Policy Polling.

PPP conducted the survey last weekend on behalf of the NC League of Conservation Voters. It surveyed 781 North Carolinians. Half of the surveys were conducted by phone and the rest by text message. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5%.

A third of respondents identified as Republicans, with 40% as Democrats and 27% independents. Three-quarters of those surveyed said they were white.

On nearly every climate-related question, respondents said they supported a transition to clean energy, as well as recognized the public health risks associated with climate change.

More than 60 percent of respondents said they were more likely to vote for a US Senate candidate who takes climate change seriously.

Sen. Thom Tillis’s record on climate change is inconsistent. In 2014, he said climate change was not “a fact,” and subsequently denied that humans’ reliance on greenhouse gas emissions was the main driver. Since then, he has acknowledged the science, but nonetheless urged President Trump to withdraw from the Paris Agreement.

Tillis’s job approval rating is just 31% among those polled, even lower than President Trump’s — 46%.

Gov. Cooper’s approval rating is 51%.

Dustin Ingalls, director of strategic communications for NCLCV compared the effects of the climate crisis on low-income residents and communities of color to those of the new coronavirus. “It’s impacting those communities first and worst,” Ingalls said. “They are exposed to more air pollution, which exacerbates health issues like asthma, making them more vulnerable to the coronavirus.”

The inadequate federal response to the pandemic bears hallmarks of its similar denials of climate change, Ingalls said.

“Like the climate crisis, the corona crisis has been made worse by a federal government which has defunded or eliminated response teams, rolled back regulations, ignored science and expert advice, treated it like a hoax, and jumped to action too late.”

Jensen said the coronavirus pandemic has heightened awareness of government’s role in protecting public health, including that related to climate change. Excessive heat, floods, hurricanes and insect-borne diseases are exacerbated by a warming planet — and the effects, while global, are felt locally.

“The overarching finding is that 61% of those polled think North Carolina leaders need to act urgently on climate change,” Jensen said. “North Carolina is so closely divided about a lot of things, it’s a pretty compelling poll finding.”

“The coronavirus has made voters more cognizant to be prepared for changes going on in the world,” Jensen went on. “It shows what happens when there’s an inability to prepare sufficiently. If you plan properly the effects don’t have to be as bad.”

Commentary, Trump Administration

Calling out conservative hypocrisy on corporate bailouts, economic stimulus spending

Sen. Elizabeth Warren

This time, worker protections should be part of any deal

J. Patrick Coolican, the editor of the Minnesota Reformer did a nice job in his daily newsletter yesterday of summarizing some of the inconvenient truths that should be pointed out as the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress quickly advance plans for massive injections of debt-financed government spending to aid the flagging economy.

As Coolican also notes, Sen. Elizabeth Warren and others are absolutely right when they argue that impending corporate bailouts should come with major conditions:

With all the talk of bailouts of airlines etc., here’s a must read from Tim Wu of the New York Times on American Airlines, which enters this crisis after a period of massive profitability:

“There are plenty of things American could have done with all that money. It could have stored up its cash reserves for a future crisis, knowing that airlines regularly cycle through booms and busts. It might have tried to decisively settle its continuing contract disputes with pilots, flight attendants and mechanics. It might have invested heavily in better service quality to try to repair its longstanding reputation as the worst of the major carriers. Instead, American blew most of its cash on a stock buyback spree.”

And here’s what we should demand in return:

“We cannot permit American and other airlines to use federal assistance, whether labeled a bailout or not, to weather the coronavirus crisis and then return to business as usual. Before providing any loan relief, tax breaks or cash transfers, we must demand that the airlines change how they treat their customers and employees and make basic changes in industry ownership structure.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren says bailouts should come with these conditions:

1. Maintain payroll;
2. enact $15/hr minimum wage by one year after emergency ends;
3. no buybacks, dividends, executive bonuses for minimum three years;
4. must turn over a board seat to workers.

Seems reasonable.

This is not a time for cheap partisan points, but the public needs to be aware of how far Republicans have come on bailouts. I remember the memoir of David Stockman, who was President Ronald Reagan’s first budget director, and his frustration that Reagan caved on the Chrysler bailout even though the consistent free market position is to let firms fail.

Many Republicans were willing to let the economy crash into a depression during the financial crisis rather than bailout Wall Street and the auto companies, especially beginning Jan. 20, 2009. It was a principled position, if shortsighted and callous.

But we should remember that now as they keep upping the ante on a larger and larger deficit financed aid package that will go directly to Americans and also bail out certain industries.

The $1,000 checks proposed by leading Republicans and supported by the White House is an especially galling case. With unemployment skyrocketing as the result of a financial crisis he inherited, President Barack Obama put forth a stimulus package that was 40% tax cuts. It garnered just three Republican votes in the Senate. Imagine what the GOP response would have been if Obama said we should send every American $1,000 per month for three months?

Oh the wails of socialism that would cry out on Fox News. After refusing to support any stimulus, Republicans continued to push austerity fiscal policy for years. And it wasn’t just fiscal policy. Here’s then-Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who was once a frontrunner for the GOP nomination in 2011, on then Fed  Chair Ben Bernanke, whose academic specialty is the Great Depression and it’s fair to say knew what he was doing:

“If this guy prints more money between now and the election, I dunno what y’all would do to him in Iowa but we would treat him pretty ugly down in Texas. Printing more money to play politics at this particular time in American history is almost treacherous — or treasonous in my opinion.”

Where are these monetary hawks now, with the Fed slashing the rate to zero? Why the change of heart? Have they realized the error of their ways? Was it motivated reasoning that led them to the wrong conclusions? Or were they trying to sabotage Obama’s presidency?

Commentary, COVID-19, Legislature, Trump Administration

From DC to NC, our leaders were not ready for coronavirus

These times are surreal. And these words feel surreal to write.

But many of our leaders, from the White House to the U.S. Senate to the N.C. General Assembly, are criminally incompetent, truth-starved, and woefully unprepared for the coronavirus.

President Trump, while reading from a teleprompter, flubbed his words and the truth multiple times while addressing the nation Wednesday evening, a fitting performance from a commander-in-chief who has lied, manipulated and tortured the truth multiple times during this COVID-19 outbreak. A leader whose administration even now seeks to cut funds to the Centers for Disease Control.

In a crisis requiring credibility, Donald Trump has none. He is George W. Bush, arms crossed, face an impenetrable mask while New Orleans’ 9th Ward drowns, declaring: “Brownie, you’re doing a heck of a job.”

Our leaders, from the White House to the U.S. Senate to the N.C. General Assembly, are criminally incompetent, truth-starved, and woefully unprepared for the coronavirus.

Republicans in the U.S. Senate torpedoed an emergency paid sick leave bill this week, claiming, per the usual GOP line, that now is not the time to burden employers.

COVID-19 (Image:CDC)

And in Raleigh, NC Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen chastened Republican lawmakers in the NC General Assembly this week, reminding them of their ill-considered attempt last year to budget in $42 million in cuts for her already overburdened agency. As evidenced by Gov. Roy Cooper’s 2019 veto, Republicans in the legislature and Cooper couldn’t agree on a great many things in 2019. Thankfully, this was one of them.

“As I think about the crisis that we are preparing for,” Cohen told mostly unrepentant legislators, “I don’t see how that would have been tenable in any way, even if without COVID-19. There was no scenario on which we could have delivered on the expectations you have of our department.”

NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen (left) and Gov. Roy Cooper (right)

Republicans attempted to pass the blame to Cooper, but however it is spun, there is no one else, no one, responsible for their egregious attempts to slash public health funding in 2019, cuts that are not just ludicrous in hindsight. They were ridiculous in the moment too.

Indeed, “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right.”

To be sure, coronavirus would have been a disaster no matter who was in power, Democrats or Republicans. Its exponential spread makes governments, hospitals and businesses inevitably look flat-footed. But it is hard to imagine a group more unfit for leadership than these figures in D.C. and Raleigh, figures who should comfort not confound.

There will be those who screech that now is not a time to politicize a crisis, but they forget that there is nothing, nor has there even been, anything very political about the truth. Now is the time to demand accountability the most, no matter how normalized dishonesty may have become in the last four years.

We will come through this, of course. And hopefully we will do so with a broader appreciation for public health, good government and timely, factual information. It remains to be seen however whether we will emerge with the same respect for many of our leaders.

News, Trump Administration

Congress rebukes Trump’s bid to slash CDC funding amid outbreak

WASHINGTON — U.S. House lawmakers resoundingly rebuffed a Trump administration request to cut funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention amid the coronavirus crisis.

The CDC director testified Tuesday before the House Appropriations Committee, where Republicans and Democrats alike said Congress won’t comply with the budget cuts requested in Trump’s fiscal year 2021 spending plan. The White House proposed to cut CDC’s overall spending by 9% in the next fiscal year.

“This subcommittee will not be pursuing the administration’s proposed cuts. To cut from our public health infrastructure during an outbreak is beyond consideration,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), the chairwoman of the appropriations subcommittee that oversees the CDC’s budget.

Instead, Congress will aim to funnel more money into the CDC and the nation’s public health system, she added. “We will not lurch from crisis to crisis and lapse into complacency in between. We cannot. This coronavirus outbreak makes that clear.”

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the subcommittee, agreed. “I’m quite sure that we won’t be cutting the CDC anytime soon. I suspect quite the opposite,” Cole told the CDC director.

CDC Director Robert Redfield defended the administration’s budget request on Capitol Hill at the Tuesday hearing, saying that “smart investments in CDC’s core capabilities and facilities enable us to protect U.S. citizens from a host of domestic and international health threats.”

There’s been broad bipartisan support in Congress for increased federal funding to deal with the outbreak of coronavirus, a respiratory illness that causes COVID-19. President Donald Trump last week signed an $8.3 billion emergency spending bill to combat the outbreak.

“Obvious, we’re not cutting your budget,” Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) told Redfield on Tuesday. The Wisconsin Democrat asked the CDC director whether the United States had lost its chance at containment and is strictly working to mitigate the effects of the illness.

The answer is different in different areas, Redfield said. “We’re in a containment in certain areas. I would say in general we’re in a containment, blended mitigation, in some areas we’re in high mitigation.”

On Tuesday afternoon, CDC’s website cited 647 confirmed and presumptive positive coronavirus cases in the United States, and 25 deaths caused by the virus. The CDC reported Tuesday that COVID-19 had been reported in 36 states and Washington, D.C.

Rep. Lois Frankel (D-Fla.) asked Redfield whether the United States was at the beginning, the middle or the end of its fight against the coronavirus.

“I can’t predict,” Redfield told her.

He also declined to predict what percentage of the U.S. population might ultimately get the coronavirus.

“I think it depends on how effective our public health response is right now,” Redfield told her.

“We all have a role to play.” And he stressed, “If you’re sick, stay home, please, stay home.”

Commentary, NC Budget and Tax Center, Trump Administration

Does it take a pandemic to make us realize we are in this together?

The worldwide concern over the coronavirus has reached the United States and North Carolina. With it should come a consideration of the policy choices that can make sure that we contain the potential spread of the illness, as well as build systems that would serve us well under other public health threats such as flu season and promote the well-being of every person in our state.

The media coverage around the novel coronavirus has included two key policy areas: the need for universal health care coverage that is affordable and connects people and communities to the care they need, and the protections and supports that allow people to take time off from work without fear of job loss in order to care for themselves and their families.

Cuts to our public health infrastructure at the state level in recent years have undermined our readiness for the public health challenges that come with the coronavirus, such as the need for new testing, public information, and institutional planning.

Even as the country is experiencing a bad flu season and this new threat, the federal administration proposed cuts to the Centers for Disease Control of 9% overall (7% for global health programs) compared to the most recently enacted budget. These cuts, on top of decades of funding decisions that have largely held flat the investment in this critical infrastructure, have created barriers to anticipating outbreaks, deploying information, and testing and containing the spread.

In North Carolina, funding for the state’s public health division has fallen by 28% between Fiscal Year 2008-09 and FY 2018-2019, the last enacted budget.

As we have learned in so many areas of the state budget, cuts to our collective commitment have two effects. First, they reduce the availability of programs and services. Second, less discussed but equally important, is the way in which cuts to public investments over time erode the ability of the system to serve their functions effectively and efficiently.

There is a cost to prioritizing tax cuts over the well-being of North Carolinians. That cost is felt more acutely in times of emergencies and outbreaks, but make no mistake, their slow damage to the infrastructure in our communities that holds us together is ever present.